How I changed the world with a pencil

Laura McGeary and Barry Neild, CNNPublished 26th November 2015
(CNN) — The request from the small boy on the banks of the India's River Ganges was simple.
He just wanted a pencil.
For Adam Braun, then a 21-year-old college student, it triggered a chain of events that would lead him to help fulfill the same wish for thousand of children around the world.
Braun, now 32 and a successful author and businessman, was in India after being inspired by the 1992 movie "Baraka" — a highly visual documentary showing how people live around the planet.
It was, he says, "the most transformative trip of my life."
"[The film] showed a scene that was shot on the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India," he says. "I was so motivated by that scene that I decided I had to get to India.

'Spiritual moment'

Pencils of promise
Adam Braun found inspiration on the banks of India's River Ganges.
Adam Braun
"It was a profound spiritual moment, honestly. It's one of those times when you are coming into the person you are destined to be."
But while it sounds like a hippie awakening, Braun's India experience instead appealed to his skills as a young entrepreneur.
It inspired him to create a charity run as a proper business rather than using the traditional, and sometimes less effective, not-for-profit model.
At the heart of that inspiration was the boy's request.
"When I asked a young boy -- a street beggar -- what he would want, out of anything in the world, the thing he said he would want the most was a pencil," recalls Braun.

'Extraordinary change'

Pencils of promise
Braun's charity has helped thousands of kids around the world.
Adam Braun
"Off the back of that experience, I decided to start carrying many pens and pencils.
"I gave them out to a group of children — something that I eventually did with hundreds and hundreds and probably thousands of children."
After traveling the world to distribute pencils in more than 50 countries, Braun founded Pencils of Promise in October 2008.
In 2014, he also wrote a best-selling book about his experiences: "The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change."
Braun's charity, which counts singer Justin Bieber among its celebrity supporters, is dedicated to bringing educational opportunities to kids in the developing world.
He says Pencils of Promise has now built more than 300 schools, nurturing the "imagination, curiosity and potential" of youngsters who might not otherwise have the opportunity.

Power of the pencil

Pencils of Promise has attracted celeb supporters including Justin Bieber and Usher, pictured here with Braun.
Pencils of Promise has attracted celeb supporters including Justin Bieber and Usher, pictured here with Braun.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Pencils of Promise
"The power in the idea of a pencil is that it can unlock so much for one individual," Braun adds.
"I learned recently that the average pencil holds 40,000 words, which I think is such a powerful statement.
"The thing that pulls at my heart strings the most is seeing children in communities of tremendous poverty where parents are supportive but they don't have the school support to pursue that aspirational dream."
Braun credits his travels with unlocking his own potential.
"Travel gives me a tremendous sense of freedom. A set of experiences that remind me how small I am in the world and also embolden me to dream really big.
"And if I hadn't gone to India, Pencils of Promise would not have been created."